It was the spring of ‘89 and I had just made it through a tumultuous five days of fraternity hazing rituals sealed with a blood oath to never reveal any of what happened. After the last 12 hours of what I occasionally thought would result in my own demise the night ended with an inebriated announcement that my pledge brothers and I were no longer pond scum but were now fraternally bonded in brotherhood. Ever in need of a reason to party the immediate celebration included kegs, sorority girls, more kegs and climaxed with yours truly talking to, dancing with, and eventually getting the number of one said sorority girl who didn’t know at the time she would soon be my very first, legitimate, bona fide, real life – girlfriend. That night eventually led to an all out committed relationship; a legit couple for the world to see as I basked in the glory and adulation of my conquest.
If every boy has a first love, she would become mine.
At nineteen years old I was convinced we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. I was completely ready to pack it for the house, picket fence, and 1.5 kids. So it was with that belief firmly planted I made the monumental decision to ‘drop’ this girl I knew was to be my future bride. In college Greek lingo dropping, or lavaliering, a girl is tantamount to putting a ring on her finger.
But first loves are called so for a reason and while I was ready to head down the isle right then– she apparently had other plans. Upon hearing how she was filling her spare summer vacation time with some other dude I confronted her and by the time our conversation ended I was dumped.
Not only will she be remembered as my first love she also holds the distinction of my first heartbreak.
Fast-forward a decade and that once willing and anxious young boy was nearing thirty, a whole lot wiser, and a bit less reckless. After being in a relationship for over two years I found myself faced with a decision. I was either going to get my ticket formally punched or get off at the next stop as she had said, in not so many words, that nobody rides the train for free. And it’s when faced with the prospect of “rest of your life” my doubts began setting in. Was I truly ready for “till death do us part?” Were we even that compatible to make it through “better or worse”? Besides things were going great already.
The more I thought back on these extremes the more I wondered where did that 19-year-old boy go who, just a few years earlier, had been so itching to share his life with another person flippantly throwing caution to the wind and believing love would find a way? Was I simply a naive sick puppy back then and more realistic now that I had finally grown up? Or had the shrapnel wounds from that first heartbreak and ensuing relationship catastrophes remain unhealed?
Maybe it was pure selfishness at letting a burgeoning career, meager financial success, and a sense of freedom stand in the way of happy ever after. Or perhaps I was I kidding myself entirely? Was I fascinated with this idea of marriage only if it remained ahead in the distance but when faced with an earlier than expected arrival time I began pondering if it was a journey I even wanted to be on?
Where did my fear of commitment come from? And why do so many of my gender share the same trepidation? And why is it this anxiety is felt with virtually every form of relationship commitment from simple dating to marriage?
If I was like most men the thought of being so devoutly tied to someone else at that time felt more like a yoke of sorrow than a hitch of happiness. It forced me to seriously consider all the additional responsibilities I would assume as a result of saying “I do”. And it made me stop and ask the question:
If I do this now what do I lose out on later?
My feelings of loss included financial security, material belongings, personal freedom, and current friendships. I was twenty-nine years old with the world at my feet, a little money in the bank, great friends, and a fast track career. I had life by the testicles with no plan of letting go, but how might marriage change all that? And if it did was I going to like the result? It was the ultimate dichotomy; the unknown kept one of my feet on the accelerator while the other stayed on the brake. My thoughts ran rampant: “Would I have a marital curfew?”, “Having two incomes would be nice!”, “Would I lose Saturday afternoons of watching Game Day for yard work?”, “Isn’t getting married something I’m supposed to be doing?”
I have to give the ex credit, she was willing to lay it all on the line to get what she wanted and I’m certain the relationship would have ended had she not. Yet I have met or know so many women who are her polar opposite in this regard. They knowingly stay mired in the muck of relationship unhappiness while desperately wanting change or wanting out. These are the same women who stay with men, frustrated, that their relationship is going nowhere. While they complain, moan, and criticize HIM for their languishing love life they fail to realize they may be the bigger part of the problem.
When you stop to think about it isn’t the man who will not commit simply living by his principles, be they right or wrong? If he isn’t interested in getting married, moving in, or getting serious how can be attacked when he doesn’t do so? Yet in spite of all that, she continues to stay hoping beyond hope that he will change either voluntarily or otherwise. But on those rare occasions when the last straw is broken she puts on her big girl panties, breaks up, relishes in her steely independence and resolve then three months later ends up right back where she was before – with him. Doesn’t this sound like the actions of one who has forfeited her self-respect for a man who can’t be honest with her or have honor for her?
Why? Why do women perpetually treat themselves like this? It’s a topic the Queen and I discuss often – the on again off again relationship everyone sees going nowhere – except the ones in it. The conclusions we’ve drawn are the same and when boiled down the women in these relationships seem to universally suffer one of two shortcomings.
First, as much as they may talk about wanting independence, the reality is they want the complete opposite. With freedom comes certain uncertainty and the unknown is far scarier than the known they’re in now. They live by the adage “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”. So they trade in their dignity and respect for comfort and familiarity. This manifests itself in the woman who is with someone for wrong reasons be they financial, material, or emotional. This is the same woman who knows she should get out of the relationship but is so dependent upon him she has no choice but to stay. So instead of taking two steps back in order to move forward she continues to tread water where she’s at.
Second, and arguably more important, these women have yet to get right with themselves. Most haven’t taken the necessary time to suffer through that emotional winter which comes with the loneliness, introspection, and self-analysis necessary to properly receive and truly appreciate a respectful loving relationship predicated on more than what women’s magazines says is important. There’s no better example of this than the woman who, after realizing things aren’t going to improve ends the relationship yet finds the dating world and singlehood aren’t what she thought so the more weekends alone and more losers she meets the more appealing what she walked away from becomes until it gets to the point she takes him back.
It might be easy to chalk all of this up to the mere ramblings of some hack. Except this is as much of self-indictment as it is criticism. There’s no doubt that had I not suffered through my own season on loneliness, taken the time to truly understand who I am and what I want and discovered why I attracted the relationships I did I would never have been capable of appreciating and honoring where I am or who I’m with today. As I think back to my own isolation and uncertainty I’m always reminded of a quote from the late president Richard Nixon that has always encouraged me
“Only when you’ve been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent the mountians can be”